Friday, August 31, 2012

Portland's Solar Powered Loo Named Finalist in Canadian "Best Restroom" Contest

In March 2012, Cintas Canada Ltd kicked off their third annual restroom contest, asking for nominations of [non-residential washrooms accessible to the general public] that are designed, or customized to integrate function with fashion, bring personality into a space where you least expect to see it, and offer a clean, well-maintained and tastefully designed restroom. The contest recognizes establishments that place high value on hygiene and style in their public toilets.  Qualifying facilities were then judged and finalists were selected based on cleanliness, visual appeal, innovation, functionality, and unique design elements.
Langley Street Loo
On August 14th, Cintas announced the five finalists. The nominees hail from cities across Canada, including Repentigny (Qu├ębec), Toronto (Ontario), Vancouver (British Columbia), and Victoria (British Columbia).

One top contender is a Loo purchased in 2011 from the City of Portland for $90,000.  The Langley Street Loo, located in Victoria,... sports the same eco-friendly and open design that Portlanders have come to know with our Loos.  The loos’ layout offers the optimal balance of personal privacy and public access.  The stainless steel facility features a graffiti proof coating and combines a unisex toilet and an exterior hand washing station. The Langley Street Loo is the only loo in the running that is powered entirely by solar powered LED lighting fixtures and meets the Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessible design).

Through October 12, 2012, Cintas is inviting both Canadian and Americans to vote for their top pick at The contest’s website will take visitors on a photographic tour of each of the finalists’ facility and allow them to vote for their favorite restroom.
According to the August 29, 2012 Los Angeles Times (
The solar-powered, 6-by-101/2 -foot street-corner cabin, ingeniously stripped of much of its plumbing and privacy, has been installed at six locations around Portland, from the city's dodgiest centers for the homeless to an upscale waterfront where stay-at-home moms take their children to play.

So well has it eased into the urban landscape that Portland is looking to build and market Loos across the continent, hoping the profits will allow for the construction and maintenance of more at home. San Diego, Vancouver, Houston, Baltimore and Seattle all have expressed interest. The first official export was installed in Victoria, British Columbia, in November.
They are not self-cleaning, but are made of prison-grade steel with plumbing so basic that they are almost impossible to damage, and a twice-a-day check by maintenance staff seems to keep them in good working order.  The only water faucet is on the outside, making customers less likely to linger for hair-washing or laundry.
The project was the brainchild of [Randy] Leonard, who watched several years ago as former Mayor Tom Potter championed the idea of spending $200,000 a year to keep a restroom in City Hall open overnight to service the city's homeless.  The problem, as Leonard saw it, was that most of the homeless hung out in Old Town, a mile away. Who, he wondered, was going to walk two miles round-trip to use the bathroom?  Leonard sat down at a table with the city's Central Precinct police captain and a community activist from what would become the citizens group PHLUSH, or Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human. They pored over designs from other cities, especially in Europe, and architectural designer Curtis Banger came up with a peekaboo toilet powered by two solar panels on the roof and with graffiti-washable panels. The cost: $60,000 to install plus $1,200 a month to maintain....
The first installation was completed in December 2008
An April 14, 2012 Associated Press story by Steven DuBois ( noted that 

Big cities from New York to San Francisco have bought high-tech, self-cleaning automatic toilets, with mixed results. In one high-profile failure, Seattle installed five such toilets in 2004 - at a cost of $5 million - only to sell them on eBay four years later because of problems with drug use and prostitution.

Meanwhile, the much cheaper Portland Loo maintains a Facebook page and has ... followers on Twitter. The five downtown toilets average about 200 flushes each per day. And, unlike toilets in other cities, have not drawn a torrent of criticism about foul smells and rampant crime.  Now Portland is trying to sell its patented loo to other cities. The city has sold one to Victoria, British Columbia, and now hopes contracting with agents who make a commission will generate more sales.  "We can ship them to somebody for $99,000 and all they have to do is bolt them on to their sidewalk and hook them up to sewer and water," said City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who originated the idea for the loo after Portland had its own publicized failure with public bathrooms.

The solar-powered Portland Loo costs about $60,000 to manufacture and the annual maintenance has run $12,000 apiece. The drab, durable structures stand 10-feet tall and have open slots that expose a standing person's head and feet, allowing police to check for lawbreakers. The metallic-gray finish is resistant to graffiti. The toilet itself is prison-grade and there is no sink to break. A tiny faucet for hand-washing is outside and a worker cleans the loos twice a day.

The toilets were designed with the assumption that people would try to ruin them. Vandals have busted the locks and the flush button, but even the first loo installed in 2008 remains in pretty good shape.

"The whole idea behind it was to design it not as this beautiful, aesthetic piece of work and then be aghast if somebody did something bad to it," Leonard said. "We designed it anticipating all of that."

The cities of San Diego and Anchorage, Alaska, have expressed interest in buying the loo.
To help generate sales that would defray maintenance costs, the Portland council voted this week to allow three contractors to market the toilet: Curtis Banger, who provided design services for the loo; Madden Fabrication, which manufactures the loo; and Carol McCreary, founder of the Portland advocacy group PHLUSH - Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human.  All are eligible to receive 10 percent of the sales price as a commission.

To learn more about the Portland Loos, visit For information on the sale of the Loo to Victoria, click here.
Separately, on August 14, 2012 Bill Gates Named Winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge "an effort to develop "next-generation" toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don't have it." The awards recognize researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.
Unsafe methods to capture and treat human waste result in serious health problems and death. Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year. Most of these deaths could be prevented with the introduction of proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.

Improving access to sanitation can also bring substantial economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, improved sanitation delivers up to $9 in social and economic benefits for every $1 invested because it increases productivity, reduces healthcare costs, and prevents illness, disability, and early death.


California Institute of Technology in the United States received the $100,000 first prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom won the $60,000 second place prize for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. University of Toronto in Canada won the third place prize of $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Special recognition and $40,000 went to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.

One year ago, the foundation issued a challenge to universities to design toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price.
Teams are showcasing their prototypes and projects at a two-day event held at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle on August 14 and 15. The Reinvent the Toilet Fair is bringing together participants from 29 countries, including researchers, designers, investors, advocates, and representatives of the communities who will ultimately adopt these new inventions.

Other projects featured at the fair include better ways to empty latrines, user-centered designs for public toilet facilities, and insect-based latrines that decompose feces faster.

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